Tag Archive: interpretation


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Debate 1: Ron Rhodes asks, “Should Bible Prophecy Be Interpreted Literally or Allegorically?”

  • 1. The Hermeneutics of Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical?

Knocking Down False Views

This serves as the first in a series of responses to the debates put forward by Ron Rhodes in his book, The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy. The book is really just a platform for promoting Rhodes’ end-time views which I plan to debunk as I to respond to each debate with the truth of Scripture. My posts will not be exhaustive responses to the questions raised in the book, yet they will be enough to hopefully keep many from the false end-time beliefs associated with Rhodes’ views and lead them to enjoy the liberty that comes from understanding God’s word.

Straw man Leverage

Firstly, the question “Should Bible Prophecy Be Interpreted Literally or Allegorically?” creates false leverage in order to discredit allegorical interpretations of certain Bible prophecies that don’t fit with Ron Rhodes’ preferred literal interpretations. It creates the assumption that all Bible prophecy must be viewed through only one lens of interpretation and the straw man that those who view certain prophecies allegorically do so for all prophecies. This is of course not true.

A better question would have been, “Should Bible prophesy always be interpreted literally?” This would have avoided the implied premise that one interpretation method is always correct and in turn have avoided the unfair straw man created by such a dichotomy.

Ron Rhodes further entrenches this straw man argument by citing prophecies where the literal interpretation has clearly been fulfilled in order to use these as proofs that this approach is the only option for prophecy. However, this is as flawed as saying that the night sky is full of bright stars; therefore, everything bright in the night sky is a star.

Literal unless Indicated

I agree with Ron Rhodes that the literal interpretative method has proven to be the best starting point when approaching Scripture. Regarding this he says, “A literal approach allows for allegorical or symbolic meanings when indicated in the context, as is often the case in such apocalyptic literature as the books of Daniel and Revelation.” However, where we disagree is the extent to which “allegorical or symbolic” has been “indicated in the context”, including in certain prophecies.

Firstly, let me point out that by simply citing Revelation as an example of apocalyptic literature that contains allegorical meanings, Rhodes disproves his notion that a literal interpretation is required when interpreting prophecy, because Revelation is prophecy. So, clearly, the issue appears to be identifying where a book is to be understood allegorically and not whether or not prophecy can be interpreted allegorically or not.

Consistency of Interpretation

Secondly, when interpreting Revelation, Rhodes is far more selective in his use of allegorical interpretation than what I believe the text demands. For consistency in interpreting Revelation, a book loaded with symbolism, why would the “7 spirits of God” in Revelation 1:4 be allegorically representative of the Holy Spirit while the “1000 year reign” in Chapter 20 be literal?

On what basis would the number “7” associated with the term “spirits of God” be clearly understood as allegorical and yet the number “1000” associated with the term “years” be understood as literal? What of the 24 elders, the 12000 stadia, the 144000 people, etc.?

Explaining the 1000 year Reign of Christ

In the Bible numerology is commonly used to depict meaning. Certain numbers had certain connotations. For example 12 could allude to the tribes of Israel, or to the apostles, 3 to the Trinity, 7 to qualitative fullness associated with God and creation and 10 was understood as quantitative fullness. Therefore, with 10 meaning quantitative fullness and 3 as the number of God, 1000, which is 10 x 10 x 10 or 103, would symbolically represent the fullness of time that God has determined rather than a literal 1000 years.

In apocalyptic literature, if the author has clearly used numerology, especially in his first use of a number, as John did with “the 7 spirits of God”, then that is an indication that numerology should be considered when other numbers present themselves. This is especially true if the numbers that are used are consistently distinctively Biblical like 3, 6, 7, 10 or 12. Finally, if in applying consistency of interpretation and numerological meaning to the numbers we find that this leads to real meaning that is in line with Biblical truth, then it is unlikely that we have stumbled upon chance. This final point is consistently true of every number found in Revelation and, because there are so many, chance is eliminated. Revelation proves that its numbers are to be allegorically understood.

Some Dare not See

I suggest that Rhodes’ bias, tied to his end-time belief in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ, makes him unable or unwilling to see the “allegorical” clearly “indicated” around the numbers used in Revelation. Sadly, instead of using Revelation’s own cues, Rhodes misses the use of numerology throughout and, as a result, the real meaning behind the numbers.

I believe that Rhodes and other premillennialists are forced to turn a blind eye to the allegory in order to maintain a belief system that is interlinked with other fallacies. However, by doing this they have clearly moved away from Scripture, preferring a popular, but flawed interpretation. Rhodes created this first debate in order to champion this view, unaware that his own concession to the “allegorical or symbolic when indicated in the context” is this view’s undoing.

Click here for Numerology in The Revelation.

Rob Morley

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Interpreting Scripture Correctly

Bible and TextMan’s form of religion is full of rules and rituals in order to reach God or Karma or a state of perfection. At best, it’s merely a hollow shell with empty promises.

The Bible, by contrast, is not a burdensome book of religion; it’s the living Word of God. True Christianity is a dynamic ongoing relationship with the living Jesus Christ. As a result, we cannot treat the Bible as a book of mindless rules and build formulas out of scripture. Man, however, feels safe when the words that he reads are categorized, put into boxes, and formulas are built for instruction on how to live right.

If that is how we want to interpret scripture, then we strip the Bible of life.

Interpreting the Bible should be done in our relationship with its Author, Jesus Christ, who helps us interpret what is printed on its pages. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the living word of God can transform our corrupt minds and make us think and behave more like Christ.

When we don’t allow the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor, then we are in danger of misusing scripture. When we misuse scripture, we can easily damage people’s lives.

Each individual situation should be treated with individual care and prayer. Don’t rattle off scripture, because you might have grabbed the wrong one for that moment. We must not throw scripture around as we deem fit, because we might cause more harm than good and push people further away from God.

Besides putting verses in boxes, we must also be careful that we don’t place our own agenda onto our interpretation of the scriptures, because we can “see” what we want to see and miss what God is actually saying. That might require us to unlearn what we have been taught in our various churches and cultures and ask God to teach us afresh.

For an example of how we can misuse scripture if we are simplistic in interpreting it, you can go to my post, Misinterpreting Scripture on our blog, Restore the Word.

Tina

Here are some questions that we occasionally (maybe every 4 years) grapple with: Who to vote for? What are the candidates’ views on key issues? What are my views on these issues? And, most importantly, what is God’s mind on these things?

What!? God’s mind!? Who can know that? Fortunately for us, God’s views, His own laws, aren’t hidden mysteries, but have been left for us in His word, the Bible.

When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they were to become a self-governing nation and, in the light of that, God gave them His laws in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. These laws covered all aspects of society and when Israel adhered to them they prospered. However, when these were dismissed (or misinterpreted) they struggled. Also, these same laws have had an influence in many nations in the creation of their own laws.

Various interpretations can be a problem at times, but this shouldn’t make us shy away from engaging with God’s word to discover the truth. While these disputes have their own challenges, at least we are looking in the right place. In Phil. 3:15 we have an example of how Paul accommodated believers holding different views where he says, “…if in anything you think otherwise, God will (in time) reveal that also to you.”

Imagine arriving at a stadium with a friend to see a game. You may have a dispute over which entrance your tickets are instructing you to use, but that won’t make you dismiss the tickets as your reference. In this case, a wrong interpretation just means a longer walk and possibly missing some of the game. Sadly, Christians can have a negative influence on society with awful consequences through their bad interpretation of God’s word or ignorance of it.

So, studying God’s word remains an excellent means for Christians to get to know God’s mindset and, in turn, influence society. As the salt and light of this world, Christians need to appropriately share God’s ideas in the arenas where they have direct and indirect influence. Sometimes, like the boy with the loaves and the fish, a small influence can be multiplied to affect a multitude.

We can be encouraged that many of the laws that exist throughout the world already reflect God’s laws. Man, despite his sinful nature and disregard for God, still has something of a moral compass in him. Also, while we might not be able to enjoy a government that fully embraces God’s laws as it ought to, nevertheless we can be an influence for positive change.

All we can do is bring the truth to the table. How society responds in making a government that reflects God’s laws or not is up to them. Having said that, it remains our responsibility as Christian’s to direct people toward the ideal of a government that reflects all of God’s laws.

Today, many are thankful for those who previously stood for change to make their lives a better experience. Slaves, various races, females, children and others have all been helped by those who have stood for God’s laws. It still remains for many to be protected, including the most vulnerable, the unborn babies, from the murder of abortion.

For a link to help you to study God’s word you can go our Bible Coaching site.

Rob

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